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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: Superstar Al Jolson arrived for his big show after two years away from the city

 (S-R archives)
(S-R archives)

The biggest star in the nation, Al Jolson, arrived in Spokane to perform two nights of his gigantic Broadway hit, “Sinbad.”

It was his fourth Spokane appearance, after a two-year absence.

“Sinbad” was truly an extravaganza, staged with a company of 100, and with 20 stage sets. It included some of the songs that Jolson would be best-known for, including “My Mammy” and “Suwanee.”

To modern audiences, Jolson’s act would seem problematic, to say the least. He performed in blackface and was considered a “burnt cork” star.

But in 1921, the act was immensely popular. “Sinbad” ran three seasons on Broadway and broke attendance records. His Spokane run was already sold out.

From the accident beat: The boys at the Spokane Parental School were enjoying their regular Saturday afternoon swimming hour at Hangman (Latah) Creek when tragedy struck.

Roy De Figure, 11, suddenly cried out to the 20 other boys in the swimming hole, and sank below the surface.

“All of the boys immediately rushed to his aid, but he had gone down before any of them could catch hold of him,” The Spokesman-Review wrote. “Although they dived repeatedly, they could not see him, due to the muddy water.”

Deputies raced to the scene, but it took two hours to find the boy’s body in 10 feet of water.

The part of the creek where the drowning took place was “nearly a still pool with a muddy bottom and sloping shore.”

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